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John 1:6 is

"There was a man who was sent from God. His name was John." (KJB)

The first 'was' is 'egeneto'. It is aorist, indicative, middle.

('Was' or 'came' are the most common translations here.)

John 1:14 is

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us[.]" (KJB)

The 'was made' is also 'egeneto', and it is also aorist, indicative, middle.

(The KJB is an outlier, and this is usually translated 'became'. Weymouth's has 'came in the'.)

Are there any grammatical reasons for translating one as 'was' or 'came' and the other as 'was made' or 'became', or is it rather theology that is driving the difference in translation for 'egeneto' in these two lines?

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  • I tried looking for John 1:14 in the verses cited on the comments below. I did not find John 1:14. Can you find John 1:14 cited by BDAG with meaning number 5 of ginomai/egeneto? Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 10:49

6 Answers 6

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Why is 'egeneto' at John 1:14 translated differently than 'egeneto' at John 1:6?

One fun exercise when dealing with one greek word used in different contexts is to try to use a word or phrase that has enough range of meaning so as to cover both situations. For "egeneto" I believe "came to be" works nicely. Maybe you can come up with a better word or phrase.

We can, therefore, translate John 1:6 as,

"Came to be a man, sent by God, whose name was John.

We can translate John 1:14 as,

"And The Word came to be flesh and tabernacled among us..."

In the context of John 1:6, egeneto is used to communicate that John showed up (came to be) somewhere having been sent by God.

In John 1:14, egeneto is used to communicate that the Word became (came to be) something it wasn't before... flesh.

So, even if we were to translate egeneto exactly the same way, it would still necessarily communicate different flavors of meaning based on the context as demonstrated.


Are there any grammatical reasons for translating one as 'was' or 'came' and the other as 'was made' or 'became', or is it rather theology that is driving the difference in translation for 'egeneto' in these two lines?

It seems the translators at the very least were reasonably trying to reflect this difference in meaning (as we've already noted) given the different contexts. That said theology may also have played a role.

With regard specifically to John 1:6,

  1. The words "came" and "was" seem like reasonable translations of the word egeneto along with the addition of the word "There" to produce a smoother read in English.
  2. "Came" seems to communicate John's transition to a location while slightly deemphasising that he continued to exist there. I think pairing "There" with "came" helps to more strongly communicate his continued existence.
  3. "Was" on its own communicates the end result of John's egeneto at a particular place without reference to John's coming to exist where he "was". However, the fact that John "came to be" where he "was" is implied in context by the fact he was "sent by God" to be where he "was."

With regard to John 1:14,

  1. "Became" seems to be quite literal as a translation of egeneto in the context within which it is found.
  2. "Was Made" on the other hand is a bit too interpretive for my blood and indeed seems to be an interpretation based on theology. Not a highly specified theology mind you. It's one that could easily accommodate several theological perspectives (e.g. Trinity, Arianism, etc.), but it does assume some other person/agent is the cause of The Word "coming to be" flesh (such as The Father, or Holy Spirit, or both), by converting the middle voice to passive. It's possibly even the correct interpretation, but it's just not exactly what is being communicated in John 1:14.
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The verb γίνομαι occurs about 671 times in the NT and BDAG lists 10 basic meanings for it (see the appendix below). Similarly, Thayer lists many shades of meaning as well. Thus we should not be surprised that it is variously translated depending on context.

Indeed, the verb occurs 11 times in John 1, nine of these in the first 18 verses, three times just in John 1:3, one each in V6, V10, V12, V14, V15 & V17. (See also V28, 30) These all occur with a slightly different meaning.

John 1:6 - Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος

"there came a man", is how John describes the origin of John the Baptist's preparatory ministry of preaching repentance. It does not describe the origin of John himself (for which see Luke) but the origin of his ministry and the fact that he was sent by the Holy Spirit.

John 1:14 - Καὶ ὁ Λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο

"the word became flesh". Note that whatever one's Christology, this plainly describes a transformation of the "word" to become "flesh". Again, John does not describe how this occurred, but simply stated that such a transformation occurred.

Now, while both words occur in similar grammatical form (aorist indicative middle for V6; aorist indicative active for V14) they have a quite different syntactical and semantic context and thus must be translated slightly differently. Most modern versions get these fairly correct:

  • V6: There came a man sent from God (BSB, BLB, NASB, ASV, etc). "was" (in the sense of "exist") is not completely wrong but missed the poiunt of John coming along because he was sent by God
  • V14: The word became flesh (NIV, BSB, ESV, NASB, HCSB, ASV, etc)

I see little justification for the outdated KJV translations of "was" (v6) and "was made" (V14); further "was made" is passive and the Greek is active.

APPENDIX - Headline meanings for γίνομαι as per BDAG

Here I list only the basic meanings (without even the sub-meanings) from BDAG

  1. to come into being through a process of birth or natural production, be born, be produced
  2. to come into existence, be made, be created, be manufactured, be performed
  3. come into being as an event or phenomenon from a point of origin, arise, come about, develop
  4. to occur as process or result, happen, turn out, take place (this has eith sub-meanings depending on the case of the associated nouns)
  5. to experience a change in nature and so indicate entry into a new condition, become something, eg, (with nouns) John 1:14. (see below)
  6. to make a change of location in space, move
  7. to come into a certain state or possess certain characteristics, to be, prove to be, turn out to be
  8. to present at a given time, be there, eg, John 1:6
  9. to be closely related to someone or something, belong to (with four sub-meanings)
  10. to be in or at a place, be in, be there

For more details, see the very extensive entry in BDAG. enter image description here

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  • +1 Thank you for this overview. So are we limited in our translation of the phrase because the verb links logos and sarx? How does this relate to, ex., Weymouth which has 'the word came in the flesh', which suggests not a transformation but an arrival on the scene of the word? Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 22:36
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    @OneGodtheFather - great question, but it suggests (hints at least) that the word should be uniformly translated which is obviously not the case. "Came in" would be more appropriate for one of the other Greek words which specifically has this meaning of coming and going. See BDAG for the many other times where ginomai has the sense of a transformation. (I will help if you do not have a copy).
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 6, 2022 at 23:45
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    @OneGodtheFather - the meaning "became" (ie, transformed) is very common (much more so than "came"), especially when used with a noun, eg, Matt 5:45, Mark 1:17, Luke 6:16, 23:12, John 1:12, 4:14, 12:36, Acts 26:29, 1 Cor 3:18, 4:9, 13:11, Rom 2:25, 4:18, Gal 3:13, Heb 5:5, Matt 4:3, Col 1:23, Luke 13:19, Matt 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7, John 16:20, Acts 5:36, Rom 11:9, 1 Thess 3:5, Rev 8:11, Rom 5:18, etc.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 0:29
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    @OneGodtheFather - when the verb is used with an adjective it usually paraphrases the passive, eg, Matt 24:32, Mark 13:28, Acts 26:19, John 12:42, Luke 24:31, Acts 12:23, Mark 6:14, etc. See BDAG for more information on this common use.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 0:31
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    @AlexBalilo - NO. 100% God with voluntarily accepted human limits. Please read Phil 2:5-8.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 7:01
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Are there any grammatical reasons for translating one as 'was' or 'came' and the other as 'was made' or 'became', or is it rather theology that is driving the difference in translation for 'egeneto' in these two lines?

BDAG’S meaning # 1 is the meaning of egeneto in John 1:14 as it is in harmony with Luke 1:26-38 account of Jesus' birth.

If egeneto also mean “change in nature” in John 1:14, verses showing egeneto to mean this change in nature should be cited

Some examples of "become" are John 1:12 become children of God, Matthew 5:45 become sons of your Father, Hebrews 5:5 became a high priest and Mark 1:17 become fishers of men. There is nothing in these examples that say people became spirit beings or God-man.

The only biblical citation in BDAG’s defin­ition #5 that may “support” the change in nature meaning in John 1:14 is John 1:14 itself. The use of BDAG definit­ion #5 to prove the change in nature view of John 1:14 needs proof or evidence.

For anybody using BDAG definit­ion #5 to prove the "change in nature view of John 1:14, they have to show that BDAG itself cited John 1:14 for veracity.

Giving emphasis to BDAG's meaning #5 for the Greek word egeneto to support the interpretation that God the Word nature became flesh nature, the verses cited by BDAG should carry this same sense. Examining the verses cited, none has the idea of this God the Word nature became flesh nature idea. I wonder if BDAG itself cited John 1:14 for egeneto's meaning #5, and even if they did, it creates questions whether God changes from spirit to flesh. BDAG’S definition #5, for John 1:14 gives the impression that the God of the bible changes which the bible say He does not. Does God have 2 natures?

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    I have done that above. Please check it yourself and stop peddling untruths.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 21:23
  • @Dottard. It needs to be clearly shown. Even if it is shown, the only biblical citation in BDAG’s defin­ition #5 that may “support” the change in nature meaning in John 1:14 is John 1:14 itself. Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 22:04
  • That is exactly what BDAG has done by citing copious evidence of this meaning in the grammatical context that we find - many examples with nouns of a transformation! Please read the lexicon! Indeed, BDAG has assembled so much confirmatory data, that the burned of proof is on YOU to show why in John 1:14, in the same grammatical context, it does not apply to Jesus. Even you NWT uses the English verb "became" suggesting (correctly) a transformation!
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 23:14
  • @Dottard BDAG definit­ion #5 to prove the "change in nature view of John 1:14, you have to show that BDAG itself cited John 1:14 for veracity. The examples given show that people remain people. They were not transformed from flesh to spirit or spirit to flesh. Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 23:21
  • Doh! That is unique to Jesus but the grammar and syntax demands it! There are none so blind ...
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 1:26
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Why is ἐγένετο at John 1:14 translated differently than ἐγένετο at John 1:6?

In these instances, different syntax and context substantiate the different translations.

Syntax

John 1:6

In John 1:6, ἄνθρωπος is the subject, ἐγένετο is the verb, and together they form an independent clause: «ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος». ἐγένετο has neither a direct object nor a subject complement.

  • The participle ἀπεσταλμένος modifies ἄνθρωπος.
  • Τhe prepositional phrase παρὰ θεοῦ modifies ἀπεσταλμένος.
  • The final phrase ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης is another independent clause.

John 1:14

In John 1:14, ὁ λόγος is the subject of ἐγένετο, and σὰρξ is the subject complement (not the direct object). «ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο» forms an independent clause.


Context

John 1:14

In John 1:1, the author relates how the Word was God. Now he relates how that same Word, who was God, became flesh. If the author intended to write that the Word came in the flesh, σὰρξ would instead be declined in the dative case and be preceded by the preposition ἐν: ἐν σαρκὶ. Assuming the author of this gospel is the same person as the author of the epistles known as 1–3 John, then the author was quite familiar with expressing the idea of “coming in the flesh” in Greek, as he does so three times:

1 John 4:2

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα] is of God, NKJV, ©1982

1 John 4:3

and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh [ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα] is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. NKJV, ©1982

2 John 1:7

For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh [ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί]. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

In each instance, the author uses a conjugation of the verb ἔρχομαιNOT γίνομαι — with the prepositional phrase ἐν σαρκὶ, with σαρκὶ declined in the dative case, being governed by the preposition ἐν.

For those who assert that «ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο» should be translated into English as “the Word came in the flesh”, they must explain why the author uses different words and syntax in three other verses where he expresses the idea.

John 1:6

To reiterate, in John 1:6, «ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος» is an independent clause. ἐγένετο lacks both a direct object and a subject complement. There is only a subject [ἄνθρωπος] and a verb [ἐγένετο]. The rest of the verse consists of modifiers and another independent clause.

John 1:6 contains syntax similar to other verses in the Bible where the author expresses the idea of a person, thing, or event being introduced for the first time in a narrative. In English, we commonly express the idea by the phrase “there was...”

  • Gen. 1:3
    There was light...
    ἐγένετο φῶς...

  • Gen. 12:10 (cf. Gen. 26:1)
    There was a famine in the land...
    ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς...

  • Gen. 13:7
    There was a strife...
    ἐγένετο μάχη...

  • Exo. 10:22
    There was a thick darkness...
    ἐγένετο σκότος γνόφος...

  • Jdg. 13:2
    There was a certain man of Zorah...
    ἐγένετο ἀνὴρ ἐκ Σαραα...

  • Jdg. 17:1
    There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah...
    ἐγένετο ἀνὴρ ἐξ ὄρους Εφραιμ καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Μιχα...

  • Jdg. 17:7
    There was a young man out of Beit-Lechem of Judah...
    ἐγένετο παιδάριον ἐκ Βηθλεεμ δήμου Ιουδα...

  • 1 Sam. 4:10
    There was a very great slaughter...
    ἐγένετο πληγὴ μεγάλη σφόδρα...

  • 1 Kings 18:45
    There was a great rain...
    ἐγένετο ὑετὸς μέγας...

  • 2 Kings 3:27
    There was great indignation against Israel...
    ἐγένετο μετάμελος μέγας ἐπὶ Ισραηλ...

  • 2 Chr. 30:26
    There was great joy in Jerusalem...
    ἐγένετο εὐφροσύνη μεγάλη ἐν Ιερουσαλημ...

Also, it is noteworthy that the idea of “there was [a man]” is sometimes expressed [in the LXX] by the verb ἦν (“was”), a conjugation of εἰμί (“to be”). For example,

  • 1 Sam. 9:1
    There was a man of Benjamin...καὶ ἦν ἀνὴρ ἐξ υἱῶν Βενιαμιν

Both 1 Sam. 9:1 and Jdg. 17:1 have the same Hebrew phrase וַיְהִי־אִישׁ (vayehi-ish).

Therefore, in John 1:6, «ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος» is appropriately translated into English as “There was a man...” The author is introducing John the Baptist into his narrative for the first time. The syntax, context, and biblical precedent — where other verses with the same syntax are all translated in the same manner — all justify this translation.


Footnotes
1 Zec. 2:11: And many nations shall be joi1ned to Yahveh in that day and shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you, and you shall shalt know that Yahveh of hosts sent Me to you.
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kai ho logos sarx egeneto...., and the word humanity came to...., Now put sarx (the human kind of flesh) which should be translated as humanity, after egeneto (came to) and this is what you get:

and the word CAME TO HUMANITY and dwelt IN US (en himen).

I see no reason why egeneto cannot be translated as "came to" in order to arrive at a Biblically accurate translation that poses no conflicts with other scriptures.

egeneto has over 80 definitions. It's a very slippery Greek word and Greek experts know this. They also know that a grammatically correct translation can in some rare cases lead to an English translation that violates the scriptures.

"The word became flesh" translation is an assault on the scriptures and an affront to human reason.

YAHWEH never said He would cause His word to become Jesus. YAHWEH said He would cause His word to be placed into Jesus. Deuteronomy 18:18.

The word always came to the prophets. The word did not become a flesh man. That notion is from gnostics, mystics, and pagan philosophers.

Let's be honest here. If the word is not in you, then you are not saved. Jesus was sent to bring the prophecies to completion and open the doors of our hearts to the message he was given from his Father. He preached his Father's words. He gave us the truth he heard from his Father. Those who receive it and believe the message, are enlightened, given new life, have their hearts and minds renewed, receive the spirit (the word is spirit John 6:63).

YHWH's logos is His Logos and that never changes. YHWH's logos never became anyone. It was placed into Jesus and through Jesus the logos CAME TO humanity and it has been available to everyone since Jesus was resurrected by YHWH.

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About Lord Jesus having both form [Gr. morphe] of God and man, discussed earlier: “Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant.” (Phil. 2:5) Form means the characteristics, not ‘image’. Forms, with their relations, are part of the concept of Logos, in Greek thinking.

There are similarities between forms and classes in Object-Oriented software, that can help with our text. A class has attributes & functions of an entity; it is code on a hard disk, (as a dog class with an attribute color); it is used to instantiate objects on screen (as dogs with different colors). One class can inherit an upper class, as a form inherits another form. Ex.: a class Tiger inherits a class Feline, so Tiger code doesn't repeat Feline code. A class can inherit from more classes, like a Tiger class can inherit a Feline class and a Circus Animal class. More objects of the same class are equal per their attributes, even if the values of attributes are different. Ex.: two dogs are equal in attributes, even if the color differs.

About the text: there is a difference between a person and its form, like the difference between an object and a class. The equality of the human Lord Jesus with God is in this text per form, not per person. However, before Logos flesh egeneto, Logos is God, per John. A person has will. The man Lord Jesus distinguished between His will and the Father’s will. Also, here is a double inheritance: the human person Christ implements two forms, non-exclusive, of God and man, like an object can implement two classes. (From my PhD. Th. thesis in work)

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